My Breakfast at the Magic Café

Last Saturday morning after shopping in a busy neighbourhood, my wife and I decided to have some breakfast in one of the many local cafes. As we opened the brown wooden door, a young guy who had been wiping a table stood up straight, looked me in eye with a smile and said “Hi” as though he’d been expecting us.

The place was buzzing. We weaved our way in, searching for a table. A young woman in an apron approached us and helped us find somewhere to sit. She had that similar friendly style. No hype, no rehearsed speeches. Just simply paying attention as though she was just there for us.

The experience at the counter where we put in our order was the same. A vibrant, older woman, clearly the manager, gave us the same relaxed, friendly attention. In fact every staff member in that place had the same air of relaxed efficiency and concentration.

Whenever I come across a well run business I pay attention. So while reading the paper and eating my breakfast, I kept an eye on what was going on around me. One of the kitchen staff came from out the back. He looked tired, as though he had just finished an early morning shift and was on his way home. As he wandered through the bustle of customers and staff towards the front door, each of the 10 or so staff gave him a friendly wave, nod or farewell. I noticed in particular the women behind the counter called out to him. “Andrew, thanks, we’ll see you in the morning.” Her demeanour was the same as it had been when she took our order – attentive, friendly and genuine. I thought what a nice way to finish your work for the day.

This was a café with an uplifting culture and it washed over us making us feel relaxed, welcome and valued. Culture does that – it affects you in very real and immediate ways. The décor was old, the food was okay and the coffee was nothing extraordinary. But the culture was magic.

The best definition of culture is “The way we do things around here”. In a workplace it’s the habits, behaviour and attitudes that people naturally adopt as they go about their work. And it comes from the leader - in this case the woman behind the counter. In any organisation, big or small, people are looking at their leaders for clues on what’s important, how to react to unexpected challenges and how to conduct themselves. Like it or not, if you are a leader it’s what you do, not what you say that counts. If you are a leader, culture is like the words in the Sting song, “Every move you make, I’ll be watching you.”

Greg Nathan

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